Thursday, November 3, 2016

How to refer to functions when writing about them

When documenting or in general writing about or commenting code, what is the best way  to  refer to  functions? I'm thinking in the context of commonly used languages such as JavaScript, Java, C, C# etc. When writing about source-code  (not when writing code).

A function, in JavaScript, is defined like this:

 function foo (argA, argB, argEtc)
 { // some code

When writing about a function like above a common way to refer to it  is to write something like "foo() is ... ".  But there's a problem, an ambiguity, a possibility for confusion here.  Does "foo()" refer to the function  "foo"? OR does it refer to its RESULT?

To distinguish between the two it might be better to just refer to the function as "foo", and to its result as "foo()". The value of the expression  foo() after all is the RESULT of the function "foo". But this brings about another avenue to confusion. Maybe there is no function "foo" (or should I say "function 'foo()' ?).  There might be a VARIABLE named "foo". So seeing just a reference to "foo" you don't know if I'm talking about a function, or a variable, or something else. There might be both a function AND a variable named like that.  There might a file named like that. Or a macro?

It would be good if names would somehow indicate what type of thing they are referring to, to make it clearer.  But naming my function "fooFunction" (or should I say "fooFunction()"?)  would be way too verbose. We want non-ambiguity but ALSO brevity. In fact you could say something like:


So what's the best way to refer to a function, as opposed to its value, or a variable named like it? I've come to this conclusion. It is to make the reference have this form:


"foo(){}" is short for "function foo(some args) {some code}".  You can not confuse it with a variable named "foo",, and you can not assume it refers to the result of function - because it does not end in ().

It clearly looks like a function, just with some parts of that omitted, for clarity. And you know, if it walks like a duck, and so on. And it is brief enough to write multiple times even within a single comment or paragraph.

© 2016 Panu Viljamaa. All rights reserved

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